site.btaNovelist Georgi Gospodinov: Bulgarian Literature Largely Invisible Abroad
Bulgarian literature is largely invisible abroad, and this is something that Bulgarians should be aware of and should talk about, novelist Georgi Gospodinov said on Wednesday, speaking at an international workshop on translation and reception of Bulgarian literature abroad. The first day of the workshop was held at the Institute for Literature at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (IL-BAS).
Gospodinov, whose novel Time Shelter, translated into English by Angela Rodel, won the 2023 International Booker Prize, said that the best bookstores abroad have separate sections on French, Spanish, Turkish and other foreign literatures but no section on Bulgarian literature. Sometimes a couple of books by Bulgarian authors can be found in a Slavic literature section. "In our minds we should set an invisible shelf of Bulgarian literature in the bookstores of the world," Gospodinov suggested.
He believes that the lack of knowledge about Bulgarian literature beyond the country's borders creates stereotypes. He recalled that during the press-launch of his Natural Novel in Berlin, a woman in the audience said: "I was expecting other things from you as a Bulgarian author." It transpired that the woman was expecting a book about the period before Bulgaria's liberation from Ottoman Turkish rule in 1878.
The writer commented: "Such thinking in stereotypes cannot go unnoticed. If you come from the Balkans, you are inevitably categorized as exotic. The big questions are left for German writers and 'big' literatures to discuss." He urged Bulgarian authors to fight for the right of "small-language literatures" to speak about big things. He noted, however, that stereotyping has two aspects to it. "We are to blame, too," he said.
"In my experience, personal and concrete stories are the kind that moves readers," Gospodinov said.
The workshop focused on translation as a way of carrying messages and literature beyond the source country's borders. "Translation is a kind of transfer, which is evidenced by the etymology of the term," IL-BAS Deputy Director Elka Dimitrova said.
According to Dimitrova, it is the translator's responsibility to make readers understand a different culture and the period in which a piece of text is set. She argued: "Translation is not just a sequence of words corresponding to other words. It takes us to a different world. It is a naive delusion to think that a translation can be identical with the original."
Argentine poet and translator Eugenio Lopez Arriazu said that every piece of text is the product of a specific style of writing. He spoke about his work on Spanish translations of the Bulgarian poems "The Hanging of Vassil Levski" by Hristo Botev and "Hush, You Nightingales!" by Konstantin Pavlov. Lopez Arriazu noted that the only way to make relatively sure that the form and the content of a translated poem come close to the original is to start working from the rhythm, not from the meaning. "This is the only way to make not just a literary translation but a poetic one," he said.
Translating obscenities from Bulgarian into Italian was the topic of a report by Giorgia Spadoni. She spoke about her work on translating Joanna Elmy's novel Made of Guilt and two books of short stories: Shut Up by Radoslav Bimbalov and All in the Bow of the Boat by Deyan Enev.
Svidna Mihailova, an expert in the theory and practice of translation, dwelled on the earliest translations of Bulgarian literature in Spain.
Other speakers discussed Bulgarian studies in Austria, the specific aspects of translating from Bulgarian into Greek and Turkish, the reception of Bulgarian literature in Czechia and Serbia, and the controversies surrounding Bulgarian translations of works by Polish author Stanislaw Przybyszewski.
The workshop will end on Friday. It has been organized in the framework of a national research programme on the development and promotion of Bulgarian studies abroad, funded by the Ministry of Education and Science.